With the recent public relations blunders and straight up crises of companies like Pepsi and United Airlines, professional faux pas have been on my mind quite a bit recently. And, if this week’s Dear Kat reader is any indication, I’m not alone:
Dear Kat, I try to always be respectful and professional in my career. But, that doesn’t mean I’m flawless. I still make mistakes! Do you have any tips for bouncing back from a work-related screw up?
We’re all only human. So, no matter how conscientious you try to be, you’re bound to goof every now and then.
Whether you do something minor, like send an email to the wrong person or spill the breakroom pot of coffee, or you do something that’s a little more cringe-worthy—like include incorrect information in a major report, for example—mistakes in your career are inevitable.
But, much like anything, it’s not always about what happened, but how you react to it that matters most. So, let’s take a look at how you can bounce back from your professional mistakes even better than before.
1. Get Ahead of it
We’re all likely far too familiar with that stomach-sinking feeling that occurs when we realize we just made a big mistake. And, oftentimes, our shame is enough to inspire us to consider leaving it alone and hoping that nobody notices.
However, attempting to sweep your faux pas under the rug is one of the worst things you can do—particularly if your mistake could have major negative consequences. Instead, you’re much better off owning up to your slip-up and then immediately jumping into action to fix it.
The sooner you can take accountability and identify next steps, the better. The only thing worse than making a mistake is getting caught trying to hide it.
2. Loop Someone Else In
In many cases, it’s also a good idea to make somebody else aware of your mistake—especially your boss or supervisor. Yes, it can be embarrassing. But, it’s almost always wise to bring in some outside perspective.
Perhaps she has some experience with this sort of mistake being made before, meaning she’ll have some sage advice for the best way to fix it. Or, maybe she’ll be able to assure you that your slip-up was really no big deal.
Either way, it’s important that your manager is in the know about your blunder, particularly if it will end up being something she needs to address or explain.
3. Identify Your First Step
Now, it’s time to get to fixing. Recovering from a professional mistake—especially if it’s a big one—can feel overwhelming. So, rather than thinking about all of the steps you’ll have to take to bounce back, start by identifying your very first one.
What’s the one thing you need to do immediately in order to repair your blunder or fix an error? Do you need to send an email to someone? Do you need to undo a change you made?
Zone in on the most important and urgent thing you need to get taken care of, and then get it done. Taking that first step will address the high-pressure and time-pressing concerns, so that you can get those out of the way and continue taking steps to fix your mistake.
4. Continue Reparative Action
After you’ve checked that first step off your list, it’s time to figure out if there are additional things you need to take care of.
Do you need to send a company-wide email about the error? Do you need to redo a portion of a report or spreadsheet? Do you need to reschedule a meeting? Do you need to issue an apology to someone (that’s always important if your mistake significantly and negatively impacted someone else!)?
The steps you need to take to repair your error will vary greatly depending on your specific circumstances. But, it’s important that you identify the things you need to do to resolve your blunder—write them all down if you have to!—and then get moving on those items.
After that, you’ll also want to determine some actionable tactics for avoiding this same mistake in the future. Do you need to institute a new process for yourself or stick a post-it to your computer monitor? Find some things that will help you sidestep this error moving forward and you’ll be much better off.
After all, making a mistake once is understandable. But, continuing to make that same one over and over again? That will become frustrating fast.
5. Don’t Dwell
Making a mistake—no matter how big or small—is embarrassing. And, unfortunately, it can haunt you for a while.
But, this is important for you to remember: resist the urge to dwell on that experience. While you want to use it to improve moving forward, continuing to obsess over the “I wish I had done it this way…” or “If only I had…” scenarios will only drive you crazy and prevent you from moving on.
So, after you’ve fixed your mistake and put steps in place to avoid it in the future, take a deep breath and let it go. You’ll be much better off!